Human rights fears affecting China’s standing globally, Pew survey finds

<span>Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP</span>
Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP

Concerns about China’s policies on human rights have led to negative views towards the world’s most populous nation, a Pew public opinion survey has found.

Negative views of China remain at or near historic highs in many of the 19 countries polled in this year’s survey, which spoke to people in North America, Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. The findings are largely consistent with Pew’s previous study in 2020, but with some countries now reporting even more unfavourable views of China.

In the survey, a median of 79% of people across the countries said they considered China’s human rights policies a “serious problem”. People in the countries surveyed also expressed their concerns about China’s military power, with a median of 72% describing it as a “serious problem”.

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The growing negative views of China’s human rights record mean that most of the people surveyed now favour promoting human rights over strengthening economic ties with China. This is particularly the case in European and North American democracies. But in Israel, the opposite is true.

Countries that have experienced deteriorating bilateral relations with China also report an emerging concern: China’s involvement in their domestic politics. The suspicion of China is particularly widely shared in countries such as the US, Japan, Australia and South Korea.

On Tuesday, a separate survey by Sydney-based Lowy Institute thinktank showed Australians’ negative views toward China continue to remain high. “In 2022, two-thirds of Australians (63%) say China is ‘more of a security threat’ to Australia, while 33% say China is ‘more of an economic partner’ to Australia. Both of these figures have not changed since 2021,” it said.

In Asia, majorities in Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea favour strengthening their economic cooperation with the world’s second-largest economy. But countries such as Japan and Australia say they prefer prioritising human rights over trade with China. And in South Korea, the Pew survey found young people tended to have more unfavourable views of China than older people.

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When asked about their views of China’s strongman leader, Xi Jinping, the majorities in all countries surveyed – except Singapore and Malaysia – say they have little confidence in the Chinese president’s way of dealing with global affairs.

This result is not surprising. In 2020, a similar Pew survey – from the UK to Australia – also showed that a median of 78% across the 14 countries said they had “not too much or no confidence in Xi to do the right thing regarding world affairs”.

But despite concerns about China’s human rights record, a median of 66% across the countries surveyed said Beijing’s influence has become stronger in recent years. “This is more than say the same of India or Russia … and of the US, Germany, France and the UK,” the Pew study found.